Archive for the ‘newspapers’ Category

For those who like a good news-bath, there’s no richer fount of information than a Sunday New York Times.

Even in this vaunted journalistic age, the Good Gray Lady’s Sunday edition is still a potent collection of news, comment, wit, perspective, and what A.J. Liebling used to call “agglutinated sapience.” Few, if any, American newspapers can compare.

Our journey this week involves one of a million such dead-tree doorstops. Specifically, this one made its way to the dinner table of a draftsman and his family in suburban Stamford.

But why?

May 3, 1964.

May 3, 1964. The Mets have played 16 games – and are already eight games out of first place.

I’ve previously written that my grandfather’s newspaper loyalties lay primarily with the New York Daily News — “New York’s Picture Newspaper” — and with the hometown afternoon paper, the Stamford Advocate.

So why would he leave himself a special note to buy the New York Times?

I’m especially puzzled because I don’t think it was common newspaper practice back then to tease what you had coming up on Sunday.

Today’s newspapers are not shy about promoting upcoming stories. (Many of them will get anything really cracking up on their websites ASAP, rather than hold it.)

I don’t think that was as common a practice in 1964. Papers were more protective of their scoops — in part because many cities were still home to more than one paper, and they didn’t want to tip their hands to their rivals. Which leads me to wonder how my grandpa knew in advance that he had to have a copy of the Sunday Times.

Inevitably, this calendar entry sent me searching to find out what was in the May 3, 1964, New York Times that might have interested my grandfather.

I have a book of historic Times front pages big enough to land a Piper Cub on, and the May 3 edition is not reprinted in it. So there couldn’t have been anything truly historic on the front page that day.

The Web mentions a couple items that might have been interesting at the time, though I don’t think any of them would have enticed my grandpa to buy the paper:

– The weekly magazine ran A.M. Rosenthal’s “Study of the Sickness Called Apathy,” a follow-up article about the March murder of Kitty Genovese, who was reportedly stabbed to death while dozens of neighbors did nothing. (More recent accounts suggest that the Times sensationalized the case, and the paper’s initial reports — which fixed the details of the case in America’s national memory — were largely untrue.)

– In the world of arts, Howard Taubman reviewed a production of James Baldwin’s “Blues for Mister Charlie,” telling readers in New Canaan and Mount Kisco that “Mr. Baldwin speaks fervidly for the Negro’s anguish and passion, and none of us can afford not to heed him.” (However earnest Mr. Taubman’s prose might have been, getting an actual Negro to review the production seems in retrospect like a worthwhile step.)

– Timesman McCandlish Phillips — who became better-known the following year after he unmasked the Jewish background of a prominent Klansman and American Nazi — contributed a story about the high cost of food at the recently opened 1964-65 World’s Fair.

Wikipedia says the first major student demonstrations against the Vietnam War took place May 3, 1964, in several locations including Times Square. Maybe that got covered in advance somewhere in the Sunday Times.

Perhaps there was a letter from a Stamfordite, or a feature story about Stamford, somewhere in that Sunday’s Times. Again, I’m not sure how my grandpa would have known about that, but maybe some sort of grapevine informed him.

Given the sheer heft of a Sunday Times, I guess it’s impossible for me to surmise what my grandpa would have considered must-read about it. Unless the Internet gods drop a vintage copy in my lap, I’ll probably never know.

(Note to the Internet gods: If you have a copy, try to drop it on me from a low altitude. Catching those Sunday editions upside the head sure does sting.)


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Last week, the mayor of Stamford and the U.S. Representative representing the city made a cameo appearance.

This week, we’re going to circle back to a prominent public figure of a different sort who showed up on my grandpa’s calendar:

September 1972.

September 1972. Please don’t call the number; God only knows what it connects to these days.

Don Russell, born Rustici, got in on the ground floor of television in the 1940s and seemed poised to make a big-time career of it.

He worked for the DuMont network, served as Jackie Gleason’s on-camera announcer, and anchored the first national broadcast of a presidential inauguration in 1953. He hosted early TV news programs in New York, and produced broadcasts of the Grand Old Opry in Nashville.

But, having made his mark on a larger stage, Russell apparently decided he preferred the comforts of home. For the last few decades of his professional life, Russell split his time between WSTC-AM — Stamford’s local AM radio station — and the local daily paper, the Stamford Advocate, where he wrote a column about current and historic local events.

It strikes me that — with the decline in newspapers and local radio — the likes of Don Russell may be on their way out. The local media celebrity may be an endangered species.

On the other hand, the media outlets I worked for in the ’90s and 2000s were eager to create their own local celebrities, crafting ads that promoted reporters who had no deep ties to the local area and were likely to be gone in two years’ time.

(I worked for one such chain of papers in Massachusetts in the Nineties. I left the chain just as it was about to promote me; but I know it advertised others whose attachment to the company was just as short-lived.)

Perhaps the issue is not that Don Russells do not happen any more, but that they do not happen organically.

You can’t really fake a connection to a community, nor can you douse it with Miracle-Gro and hope it develops overnight.

“He loved this city like few people have, and while he was not afraid to criticize it, he always looked for the best in Stamford, throughout its history, up into our time of momentous change,” Stamford Advocate editorial page editor Tom Mellana is quoted in Russell’s obit (linked above).

Every city needs a Don Russell to tell its stories. And while Russell’s coverage probably seemed provincial at the time, it probably looks deeply informed and sincere by comparison to whatever passes for commentary these days.

I have no way to know what my grandpa called Don Russell about. Perhaps the great man did a news item about one of my grandpa’s local art exhibitions. Or maybe he wrote a scathing column about dirty water in the Springdale neighborhood, using my grandpa as a source.

Either way, I give Russell credit for knowing who Bill Blumenau was. A truly top-class local columnist or reporter can’t just rely on their own experience. They have to have a network of townies willing to pass on the scoop from their neighborhoods.

The truly great local reporters have to have an amicable relationship with City Hall, but must also be able to rip open its poses and bluffs using the word of real people. If my grandpa was one of those real people, it’s a credit to Don Russell that my grandpa felt he could pass along information and get results.

Don Russell died in 2010, nine years after my grandfather. The old WSTC disappeared a year later, when the station was sold to a nonprofit organization broadcasting National Public Radio programming.

I have no idea what means a Stamford resident might use nowadays to get publicity for a local story. They probably have to call some twentysomething reporter who’s already busy covering three events at once.

Good luck to them both.

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Monday’s post, incidentally, was the 100th in the history of 5,478 Days/Hope Street. Thanks to all who have tuned in. I will endeavor to keep making it worth your while.

In Monday’s post, I briefly mentioned that my grandpa used to win and place in the Stamford Advocate’s reader photography contests back in the 1950s.

In keeping with the Blumenau family philosophy of keeping everything (and knowing where to find it), I’ve unearthed some of the old newspapers in which my grandpa’s prize-winning photographs originally ran.

Check it out, news nerds: This is what “reader-supplied value-added content” looked like when Dwight Eisenhower was President. (Of course you can click any of the pix to see ’em bigger.)

The above pic appeared in the Aug. 22, 1953, Advocate. The cutline says this picture of my dad, Aunt Elaine, and two slow-moving friends was “the week’s winner in Class III, children and animals.” (I’m sure my grandpa was crafty enough to realize that children plus animals would be a sure-fire winner.)

Although my grandfather’s yard on Hope Street bordered no body of water that I know of, turtles could occasionally be found wandering through.

There exists, in the family archives, a picture (taken roughly a quarter-century after this one) of an endearingly alarmed young me shoving my dad away as he tries to introduce me to a Hope Street yard-turtle.

But I digress.

From the Aug. 11, 1956, edition, here we have an “amusing and unusual” picture that won the top award in Class II. Not sure what Class II was — feet, maybe? Saddle shoes?

I like the dry, boring old-school newspaper photo headline: “Ankle View Tells The Story.” I would have opted for “Two Feet of Water” myself. Or maybe “Standing Water”?

Perhaps the apex of my grandpa’s amateur photography career. From the Aug. 31, 1957, Advocate. This ghostly shot won my grandpa first prize out of 16 “Best in Class” winners over four weeks of contests. For his efforts, he won $25 and a first-place ribbon.

And finally, from the Aug. 30, 1952, Advocate, we have the famous faked girl-by-window shot, which won my grandfather second place in the overall photo contest (presumably it won in some earlier category):

The Advocate was kind enough to run a story about that year’s winners, from which we learn the following about my grandpa:

Mr. Blumenau made the picture with a standard Rolleiflex camera, which is what he uses for all his work. He has been taking pictures for about 15 years and started originally with a smaller camera, graduating to the Rollei as he became more interested in his hobby.

The pensive young lady in the picture is Mr. Blumenau’s daughter, Elaine, who posed for the shot at her daddy’s direction. Mr. Blumenau does his own developing and printing, but has no darkroom at present. He plans to build one in his basement eventually, but at present is a little too busy raising a family. He is not a member of a camera club, but once belonged to the well-known Springfield Pictorialists, a group of enthusiastic amateur photographers who meet in Springfield, Mass.

Mr. Blumenau is a machine design draftsman. What he knows about picture making he has picked up on his own, through reading and actually taking and developing pictures. Judging from the fine results he gets, his method must have merit!

The self-trained lone wolf of family photography (at center) receives his award.

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In my journalism days, I once heard a story about a small-town newspaper editor in Texas. Or was it Vermont?

Each year, this guy received a new telephone book for his little town. And over the course of the year, as soon as a resident’s name appeared in the paper, the editor put a checkmark by their name in his copy of the phone book.

His goal was for every resident (or at least every adult resident) to appear in the paper at least once per year, as a sign that the paper was tapped into the daily lives of the people it served.

The story is more likely apocryphal than true. But it illustrates the central role newspapers used to play as the documents of record for their communities. If something happened to someone, the paper would have it.

Of course, it was a two-way street. Just as the editor wanted to get everyone’s name in the paper, people wanted to get their names — or their kids’ names — into print for noteworthy deeds. That mythical editor in Brattleboro or Lubbock didn’t have to work too hard to get names into his paper: I’ll bet many of them came in through the front door.

My grandfather was of a generation that had that kind of relationship with his local paper.

And this week’s calendar entries — there are two of them — capture him running a classic parents’ errand, sharing info about his kids, and getting his name checked off in the editor’s phone book.

Aug. 10, 1973. Getting my Aunt Elaine’s wedding announcement in the paper …

… and doing the same for my father and mother’s engagement announcement, Jan. 27 and 28, 1967. I thought the storm-tree illustration was cool so I left it in the picture.

Births, weddings and deaths — or, as newspaper wags used to call them, “hatched, matched and dispatched” — are three of the most popular features in any paper. They are places where your average Joe Taxpayer will get his name in print no matter what he does with the rest of his life.

The paper referenced above is the Stamford Advocate, which nowadays is one of those part-digital, part-print amalgams, uncomfortable in its own skin, that newspapers have become as they try to catch up with social changes that caught them unprepared.

But in those days, it was a healthy afternoon daily paper in a country full of them, minding its own laundry in Fairfield County as it battled the big New York papers for a share of the ‘burbs’ attention.

(The Advocate was good enough at that errand to win a Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor, in 1978 for its reporting on corruption in city government.)

My grandpa had a history with the Advocate that predated both of the wedding announcements mentioned above.

In the Fifties and Sixties, the Advocate used to run reader photography contests on a regular basis. William H. Blumenau of 1107 Hope Street frequently won or placed in those contests, being a photography buff with an urge to experiment.

(One winning photo showed my young Aunt Elaine, looking downcast, sitting by a rain-slicked window. What the Advocate editors didn’t know was that the photo had been faked on a sunny day. Someone — maybe my dad — had been stationed outside the window with a garden hose. That way, my grandpa got the illusion of heavy rain, while still getting enough natural light through the window for a good picture. I hope the Advocate won’t revoke his prize now that this has been revealed.)

Today’s newspapers, bent on the elusive goal of community participation, like to beseech their readers for photos and videos: “Did you see the eclipse/train crash/lightning storm/high school football championship game? Send us your photos!”

I’m old-school. Those entreaties always make me think, “Naw, dude. You’re the newspaper. You provide me with content.”

I think my grandpa would have enjoyed that opportunity, in contrast. I think he would have been glad to submit his photos from around town, just for the pleasure of having a place where his hobby could be seen.

I am sure, to my grandparents, that neither of their kids’ engagements or weddings seemed quite official without an announcement in the Advocate.

That might not be as much of a universal truth today as it was in 1967 or 1973. But I bet there are still quite a few Stamford parents who see an engagement announcement in the Advocate as a must-do.

Today’s newspapers are jangled affairs. They are pressured by declining circulation, getting by with smaller staffs, redesigned to go heavy on graphics, and packed (at least online) with irrelevant celebrity content that is usually forced on them by corporate owners and serves as the journalistic equivalent of empty calories.

Still, their history as institutions of record has not been completely vacated. Births, marriages, deaths and the other highlights of daily life still end up in their pages — and on their websites — with regularity.

The phantom editor with the phone book would still see vestiges of his paper in today’s editions. He’d just have to read around the celebrity photo galleries to get to them.


This probably should have been broken out as a separate follow-up blog post, but I’ll just dump it here.

In a 12-year career as a full-time journalist, I interviewed or covered Fortune 500 CEOs, a major-party Presidential candidate, at least one rock’n’roll legend, roughly a half-dozen current or past state governors, regionally famous sports heroes, and any number of everyday people.

And through all that, one of the proudest moments of my journalism career involved the Stamford Advocate.

I spent my last five years as a journalist working for the Morning Call of Allentown, Pa., which in those days was owned by the same company that owned the Advocate.

It was common for Tribune Co. editors to share story budgets, and to pick up stories that seemed interesting from other Tribune papers.

Through Tribune lend-lease, my stories showed up on the websites — and sometimes in the print editions — of some of America’s largest papers. Even today, searches of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday online archives still turn up my stories. (I am fairly sure my stories also appeared on the Baltimore Sun’s website, but an archive search shows no proof.)

As reporters, we used to have Google searches set up for our names, so we knew when our stories had been picked up. I remember the thrill, one day, of getting an alert that my story had appeared in the Stamford Advocate — my grandparents’ and parents’ hometown newspaper, and the paper I still have a copy of from the day I was born.

I never managed to get a hard copy of the issue with my story. I’ve long since lost the Google alert. And the Advocate’s online archives are useless, so it’s impossible to find much of anything there. I don’t expect I’ll ever track the story down.

Still, I do believe it ran. And I am sure my grandpa — all my grandparents, actually — would have been proud of me for getting my name in the Advocate, even if it wasn’t a birth or marriage announcement.

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